An in depth exploration of Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps ("The Rite of Spring") for Seminar In Musicology Summer I 2009 Dr. Melanie Foster Taylor Converse College

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A review of three recordings of ""Le Sacre du Printemps

The challenges that face the conductor and orchestra face when tackling Le Sacre are numerous. Players confront high ranges, complex syncopation, and shifting meters. Conductors must make thousands of decisions about dynamics, pacing, phrasing, tempo, tone color and more, all within the framework of Stravinsky’s inspired plan. While listening to these recordings I was ever returning to the score to be sure the orchestras were performing the same music or that I was listening to the correct segment. However, again and again I found the notes correct and that some minor matter of interpretation had thrown me off track. The three recordings are:

STRAVINSKY Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) Ballet Suite for Orchestra, Igor Stravinsky, conductor Recorded in 1929 by Columbia-Europe, this is the earliest recording of Stravinksy conducting "Le Sacre." Digital Transfer by F. Reeder.

1929 Part I : Adoration of the Eath

I'm unable to embed part II the sacrifice but you may visit this page to hear the entire record

Next, Recorded in 1940. Columbia Masterworks 78rpm Album MM 417.New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Digital transfer by F. Reeder

Part I: Adoration of the Earth

Again to hear the entire recording visit

The third recording of Le Sacre du Printemps is Conducted by Sir Georg Solti & leading the Chicago the Symphony Orchestra for London/Decca in 1974 - Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately you will have to buy this recording to hear it.
"Solti - A Passion For Music" Sir Georg Solti & Chicago Symphony Orchestra

The first thing you notice about the two early recordings is a difference in tempo and dynamics. The 1929 recording is slower on the fast sections and faster on the slow sections in comparison to the 1940 recording. Essentially the tempi are more consistent in the 1929 recording and this is also a characteristic of the dynamics. I observed over the span of the three recordings that the later the date the wider the spectrum of dynamics and tempo. There are some exceptions. For example, the 1974 recording of part II the Sacrifice is slow enough in the slow sections to make up for the speedier parts which results in a longer play time for the entire second part.
It's fair to say that in general, the more modern the recording and the conductor, the greater range of tempo. Even Stravinsky himself demonstrates this as the 1940 recording shows much wider range of tempi than his 1929 performance.
Trying hard to listen past the recording quality, there are some marked differences in orchestration as well. In the fourth movement of part II Ritual of the Ancestors, Solti uses tambourine which is totally absent in the two previous recordings. Another change in orchestration occurs in both the 1940 recording by Stravinsky and by Solti. Strings play pizzicato on the second movement of part I but in the 1929 recording the orchestra bows the notes. I am reminded of Stravinky's words in a letter to his editor.

“...for the "Sacrificial Dance," it was decided to delete the pizzicati, and they were in fact eliminated, but not completely, as I notice that some still survive in the score after 192 . . . . But what bothers me the most are these pizzicati in the entire "Sacrificial Dance." They were deleted as a matter of principle: we were being rushed, there were few string players available, and even these were below average; we had enough trouble in coping with the rhythmic complexities alone. But now I am seriously wondering if we do right in sticking to that decision. After all, some day we'll be blessed with better performers and performing conditions. In that case, wouldn't writing the strings [alternately] unisono pizz . and divisi arco be the better solution? And won't the dryness of pizz. strings accompanying the oboes provide a more concise and clear-cut rhythm than any bowing ever could? Perpetual arco bowing seems to me (but I am only at the conductor's stand) to produce a sound that is constantly thick and undifferentiated, whereas intervening pizz. would provide clarity and definite contours to the music.” (Cyr, Louis p.157)

There are a few other spots in the 1929 recording where Stravinsky chooses bowed notes over pizzicato.The effect of the bowed version is a slightly thicker sound that moves the strings part lower in relief to the rest to the sound scape and creates less depth overall. Another moment that is different in all three versions are the last notes of the final movement the Sacrificial Dance which is a sound reference to the virgins death and collapse.
In all three recordings their were differences in timing and horizontal interpretation. That is to say, although Stravinsky indicated that the final notes were to be played all together (non divisi) neither he nor Solti did so. The import of the staggered notes is to create an aftershock of the girls body hitting the ground giving her a slight bounce rather than a thud.


Cyr, Louis: Writing The rite right. (Berkeley: U. California, 1986) 157 -73.

Pierre Boulez, Notes of an Apprenticeship , trans. Herbert Weinstock (New York: Knopf, 1968), p. 74.

Van den Toorn, Pieter C. Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

Walsh, Stephen. The Music of Igor Stravinsky. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1988.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A representation in images of Stravinsky's Cellular Composition style

Analysis of The Rite of Spring

Composers of the late 19th and early 20th century found a dilemma as the traditional role of dissonance as a vehicle for harmonic motion was abandoned. The problem with dissonance that does not lead to an inevitable resolution is a total cessation of harmonic and thus musical motion. According to musicologist Stephen Walsh the great innovation of the rite is not the dissonance or the immobility of the harmonic progression because both of these ideas were in practice before Stravinsky’s work. Walsh cites Debussy’s Et la Lune Descend Sur le Temple Qui Fut’ (1907) as being both discordant and harmonically static. The true innovation was Stravinsky’s use of musical fragments and compelling rhythms to provide a structure to drive the dramatic action and thus free the frozen harmonic gears.(Walsh, Stephen p.44)
“What nobody seems to have done before the Rite of Spring was to take dissonant, irregularly formed musical ‘objects’ of very brief extent and release their latent energy by firing them off at one another like so many like so many particles in an atomic accelerator “ (Walsh, Stephen p.44)

Stravinsky’s method of composition for Le Sacre was to arrange and layer small cells of music. Each “cell” is both a melodic and rhythmic essence of the folk melody from which it was derived. See the Analysis below above recreated from the Stephen Walsh Book (Walsh, Stephen p.44 ) These musical fragments often consist of as few as four notes but they are repeated and reoriented to create ostinati, or stacked to generate chords, or embellished to create melodic material. Le Sacre was originally thought to contain only one true folk tune: the high bassoon part which begins the introduction. Later investigation into more of Stravinsky's sketches in 1969 revealed complete folk melodies copied from published collections (Walsh,Stephen p.43) Although, after being thoroughly worked, reorganized and chopped up by Stravinsky very little of the actually tune remains intact save for a faint essence of their musical personality. According to Van Den Toorn another strong adhesive component in the work is the ubiquitous use of the octatonic scale and it’s derived chords. (Van Den Toorn, Pieter)
"Indeed, The Rite is one of the most thoroughly octatonic of Stravinsky's works..." (Van Den Toorn, Pieter p.123)
Stravinsky not only employed the octatonic scale as others had before, he redifiend it's use and context completeley. By encorperating long steams of octatonic chords and seeding them with superimositions and chunks of diatonic material Stravinsky created a vocabulary all his own.

"... and to an astonishing degree, the vocabulary that informs this referential commitment remains intact: triads, dominant sevenths, and (0 2 3 5) tetrachords. The distinction rests primarily with the technique of superimposition. In The Rite , the (0, 3, 6, 9) symmetrically defined units no longer succeed one another, harmlessly, as they do in the operas of Rimsky or in the early Stravinsky passages cited above. These units are now superimposed—played simultaneously. And this is an invention from which startling implications accrue not only in pitch organization but, as a consequence, in rhythm and instrumental design as well. It radically alters the conditions of octatonic confinement, opens up a new dimension in octatonic thought that Stravinsky, beginning with Petrushka and The Rite , was to render peculiarly his own. (Van Den Toorn, Pieter p.124)

The octatonic scale is an eight note scale consisting of the pattern / H / W / H / W / H / W / H / W / The octatonic scale contributes to the atonal quality of the harmonies. But, it should be noted that Stravinsky was not limited to these sonorities and used many conventional chords in the Rite, although he did not use them in the customary way. (Walsh, Stephen p.44) That is to say they did not propel the harmonic motion as in a standard chord progression. Confronted with the same problem as his predicessors Stravinsky’s unique solution to the going nowhere feeling of atonal music was the development of the musical cell and his stunning use of rhythm.

Stravinsky layers each cell within a framework of rhythm. Ostinatos revolve continuously until their momentum is somehow resolved. Sometimes these repeating motives are quelled by the emergence of a diatonic melody, another hallmark of Stravinsky’s style. However, These oasis's of melody rapidly devolve back into tonal ambiguity
" Pierre Boulez once described The Rite as a piece in which a "vertical chromaticism" stood opposed to a "horizontal diatonicism." By this he meant that while the vertical alignment is often chromatic, the individual parts are in themselves often simple and diatonic."(Van den Toorn p.129)

Each pattern of stratified cells and rhythms emerges sometimes slowly and other times suddenly. Structures cycle, gathering steam, until they suddenly jump to a new parallel or they simply fall apart into quiet a sea of a new pulsing bass line. In the more aggressive movements the recitation of a motif often continues, building momentum, collecting thicker and thicker layers of melodic fragments like a snowball until it is shattered by a percussive explosion. These devises of rhythmic and motivic transition form the basis for the Rite of Spring’s cadential device. When harmonic ambiguity circumvents the listeners need for a resolution Stravinsky provides one with a change in either rhythm, density, or melody, or all three. The second movement of part two "The Augurs of Spring " is an example how layers build and then come to a close with a rhythmic cadence. Click on the excerpts below to have a closer look.

In closing it is important to remember that Stravinsky did not adhere to a particular method or theory. Perhaps the best thing about the Rite is it's freedom of imagination.
"I was guided by no system whatever in Le Sacre du printemps. When I think of the other composers of that time who interest me—Berg, who is synthetic (in the best sense), Webern, who is analytic, and Schoenberg, who is both—how much more theoretical their music seems than Le Sacre; and these composers were supported by a great tradition, whereas very little immediate tradition lies behind Le Sacre du printemps. I had only my ear to help me. I heard and I wrote what I heard. I am the vessel through which Le Sacre passed." Igor Stravinsky (Stravinsky and Craft, p.147-48)


Pierre Boulez, Notes of an Apprenticeship , trans. Herbert Weinstock (New York: Knopf, 1968), p. 74.

Van den Toorn, Pieter C. Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

Walsh, Stephen. The Music of Igor Stravinsky. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1988.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Revisions of " Le Sacre du Printemps"

"If the making of The Rite , of its music, scenario, and choreography, is complex and difficult to reconstruct, the stream of corrections, emendations, out-right rewritings and retractions that followed its initial performance is, regrettably, an even more tangled web of confusion, contradiction, and conflicting evidence." (Van de Toorn Pieter p. 39)

Le Sacre du Printemps was perhaps Stravinsky's most seminal work. And being such there is a possibility that he could not leave it alone.(Walsh, Stephen p. 45) Like a voice mail message or a final note to an ex-lover he pried and pecked at it not willing to leave it as it was to stand for all time.

Robert Craft lists below resource materials related to The Rite 's revisions:

"Le Sacre du printemps : The Revisions," Tempo 122 (1977): 2–8; Appendix B,

"The Revisions," in V. Stravinsky and Craft, Stravinsky in Pictures and Documents , pp. 526–33; Appendix D, "Le Sacre du printemps : A Chronology of the Revisions," in Craft, ed., Stravinsky: Selected Correspondence , vol. 1, pp. 398–406.

The most comprehensive and detailed survey of the source materials, autographs, editions, and revisions is Louis Cyr, "Le Sacre du Printemps : Petite Histoire d'une grande partition."

A condensed version of this is Louis Cyr, "Writing The Rite Right," pp. 157–73 in Jann Pasler, ed., Confronting Stravinsky: Man, Musician, and Modernist (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).

For a brief survey of the editions see Claudio Spies, "Editions of Stravinsky's Music," in Benjamin Boretz and Edward T. Cone, eds., Perspectives on Schoenberg and Stravinsky (New York: Norton, 1972), pp. 257–58.

Below is a table listing the major publishing dates and a very brief summary of the changes made in each.





RMV 196

Four-hand piano arrangement by Stravinsky. Barring of "Evocation" and "Sacrificial Dance" conforms to 1913 autograph, full score.


RMV 197
RMV 197b
(large and pocket scores)

First edition, released 1922. Barring of "Evocation" reverts to sketchbook version (pp. 73–74).


RMV 197
RMV 197b

Second, revised edition. "Edited by F. H. Schneider" (p. 3, pocket score). 20 pages newly engraved to cover 1926 reorchestration and re-barring of "Evocation" and "Sacrificial Dance."


Associated Music Publishers

Revised version of "Sacrificial Dance" completed in 1943. Major changes in orchestration, barring, and pitch. Unit of beat changed from 16th to 8th.


B&H 16333 (large and pocket scores)

Corrected reprint of 1929 revised edition, RMV 197. Copyright assigned to B&H 1947.


B&H 17271

Reprint of RMV 196 without modifications.


B&H 16333

Corrected reprint of 1948 edition. "Revised 1947 version"; "Reprinted with corrections 1965" (p. 1, large score); "Revised 1947" (p. 3, pocket score).


B&H 19441

Newly engraved edition. "Revised 1947. New edition 1967" (p. 1, large score); "Re-engraved edition 1967" (title page, pocket score).


B&H 17271

Corrected reprint of 1952 edition. 11 pages newly engraved, primarily for "Evocation" and "Sacrificial Dance."

The most tinkered with section of The Rite of Spring is the final movement The Sacrificial Dance . This movement went through a major overhaul in 1943 because Stravinsky was unsatisfied with the past performances of the work. (Van Den Toorn, Pieter p.40)

The 1943 revision of the "Sacrificial Dance" restored many of the pizzicato markings of the 1913 autograph and 1921 edition: pizzicato indications were added to the cello and double basses at nos. 142-49 and in the corresponding sections (nos. 1-9 in the 1943 score), while the pizz-arco alternation was reinstated for all strings including double basses at no. 192 to the end of the score (no. 53 + 3 in the 1943 revision) (Van den Toorn p.43)
in Expositions and Developments (1962), Stravinsky explained that with the longer measures in his earlier versions of both the "Evocation" and the "Sacrificial Dance" he had sought "to measure according to phrasing," but that later on, in 1921, his performance experience had led him "to prefer smaller divisions"; the "smaller divisions," he averred, "proved more manageable for both conductor and orchestra and they greatly simplified the scansion of the music. (Van den Toorn p.49 )

Despite his best efforts his revisions in 1943 did not stick.
"Most conductors have ignored the 1943 revision of the "Sacrifical Dance," with the unfortunate consequence that it has come to figure as just one of many appendages in the long line of revisions from the 1913 autograph to the newly engraved Boosey and Hawkes score of 1967." (Van den Toorn, Pieter p.40)


Van den Toorn, Pieter C. Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

Walsh, Stephen. The Music of Igor Stravinsky. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1988.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Responding to the "New"

I heard this piece on Radio Lab an NPR science show and I think it is pertinent to post here. It is rather long so you may wish to skip ahead to past the middle or so to go straight to the Stravinsky portion.

See the whole story here:

I was curious what Stravinsky would have composed if he had had a synthesizer or computer. What would the "Rite of Spring" sound like If Igor had been born in 1982 instead of 1882? Here is a quote form Conversations With Stravinsky

KC. Do you have an opinion about electronic music?

IS. I think that the matiere is limited; more exactly, the composers have demonstrated but a very limited matiere in all the examples of electronic music I have heard. This is surprising because the possibilities as we know are astronomical Another criticism I have is that the shortest pieces of electronic music seem endless, and within those pieces we feel no time control Therefore, the amount of repetition, imaginary or real, is excessive. Electronic composers are making a mistake, in my opinion, when they continue to employ significative noises in the manner of musique concrete. In Stochausen's Gesang der Junglinge, a work manifesting a strong personality and an indigenous feeling for the medium, I like the way the sound descends as though from auras, but the burbling fade-out noises and especially the organ are, I find, incongruous elements. Noises can be music, of course, but they ought not to be significative; music itself does not signify anything. What interests me most in electronic music so far is the notation, the "score.(Stravinsky/Craft p.125)

Here is Stochausen's Gesang der Junglinge . Stochausen also wrote the curious "Helicopter" string quartet where each player is in a separate helicopter and the work is performed whilst flying about.

Of course I did find the rite of spring arranged for synthesizer.
This is Part 1 of Fuzzbach's interpretation of Igor Stravinsky's "Adoration of the Earth" from The Rite of Spring.
The arranger notesthat it's a simple interpretation, and that some instruments from the original score are not represented in this interpretation.

Part I

Part II


Stravinsky, Igor, and Robert Craft. Conversations with Igor Stravinsky. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1959.

"YouTube - FuzzBach's Channel." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. 11 June 2009 .

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Performance Practice and Staging of "Le Sacre du Printemps"

The premiere of the Rite of spring in 1913 is a mater of infamy and speculation. Some basic facts illuminate the atmosphere to an extent. This was only the second ballet to show at the newly constructed Théâtre des Champs-Élysées since it had only been open for two months.

Igor Stravinsky originally composed Le Sacre to be a ballet. The work was in fact a commission from the great ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev who worked closely with famed dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky. The final player in the production is really quite interesting. An artist, set designer, costume designer, Poet, amature archiologist, scholar, and preservationist named Nicholas Roerich.
Stravinsky worked closely with Roerich on the scenario of the production of the Rite as well as entrusting him with the set and costume design. Roerich's lavish images and costume design added a rich exoticism to the original production. Here are some images of sets and costumes from the production.

The Choreography was entirely left to a talented dancer but inexperienced choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky, who's work on the Rite has it detractors.
"the dancers adopting a pigeon-toed stance, their movements heavy and constrained. Apart from the Chosen One, they move in groups, their movements uniform and ritualized." (Garafola p.64)
No doubt Nijinsky had his work cut out for him as described in this article.
"The Ballets Russes dancers of 1913 detested working on Sacre. They had trouble counting the music. They didn't like taking orders from a 24-year-old colleague many of them had been in school with. Plus the temperamental Vaslav Fomich Nijinsky was asking them to turn in when they'd spent years turning out and to hunch over and pound their steps into the floor. In the Chosen Virgin's solo, Lydia Sokolova had to manage close to a hundred jumps--almost literally dancing herself to death." (Jowitt, Deborah )

It is also important to remember the setting of Stravinsky's Paris in 1913. It is fair to say that the Parisian elite had a fascination with the pagan history of mankind. The exotic Russian show would have appealed to a not altogether high minded fascination with the strange, explicit, sexual, and grotesque. John Merrick "the elephant man" had been on display in London a few decades before.

The audience was no doubt prepared for an erotic pagan scene for which Nijinsky and Diaghilev were known. Nijinsky had caused a stir a year earlier when he had represented a sexual act in his choreography for L'Apres-midi d'un faun. (White,Eric p.176) Diaghilev was a well known homosexual . The real scandal may have been more related to the strange choreography or perhaps a riot was just the sort of thing the Parisian elite were in the mood for on a warm night in May. Perhaps the Rite of Spring was just an excuse for a Spring Riot.

Stravinsky recalls the premiere of Le sacre on May 29th 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris.

“I was sitting in the fourth or fifth row on the right and the image of Monteux's back is more vivid in my mind today than the picture of the stage. He stood there apparently impervious and as nerveless as a crocodile. It is still almost incredible to me that he actually brought the orchestra through to the end. I left my seat when the heavy noises began light noise had started from the very beginning and went back stage behind Nijinsky in the right wing. Nijinsky stood on a chair, just out of view of the audience, Conversations with Igor Stravinsky shouting numbers to the dancers. I wondered what on earth these numbers had to do with the music, for there are no "thirteens" and "seventeens" in the metri cal scheme of the score.”
“From what I heard of the musical performance it was not bad. Sixteen full rehearsals had given the orchestra at least some security. After the "performance" we were excited, angry, disgusted, and . . . happy. I went with Diaghilev and Nijinsky to a res taurant. So far from weeping and reciting Pushkin in the Bois de Boulogne as the legend is, Diaghilev's only comment was "Exactly what I wanted." He certainly looked contented. No one could have been quicker to understand the publicity value, and he immediately understood the good thing that had happened in that respect. Quite probably he had already thought about the possibility of such a scandal when I first played him the score, months before, in the east corner ground room of the Grand Hotel in Venice.” (Stravinsky,Craft p.46-47)

Watch a scene from the Film "Riot at the Rite"

The film suggests that theater goers of the 1910's were prone to uncouth displays of objection. A look at history reveals that this type of incident was in fact common. Lynn Garafola Compares the reaction to Stravinsky's work to the reception of Wagner's Tannhauser in 1861 in her book Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. However, she illuminates further that the premiere of Le Sacre was particularly raucus.
"One smart lady slapped a hissing neighbor; another called Ravel "a dirty Jew"; whistles hissed; a composer yelled for the "sluts" of the sixteenth arrondisment - where many of Diaghilev's boxholders lived- to "shut-up". (Garafola p.64)
the artist Valentine Gross Hugo wrote about the premiere of Le Sacre.

''It was as if the theater had been struck by an earthquake,'' ''It seemed to stagger in the uproar. Screams, insults, hoots, prolonged whistles drowned out the music, and then slaps and even boos.''(Garafola p.64)

She goes on to say that the music was almost inaudible, and a ''very pale'' Nijinsky shouted the beat to the dancers from the wings, while Serge Diaghilev gave orders over the noise from his box.(Garafola p.64)

Jean Cocteau, a poet and artist said the noise was like a battle.

''Standing in her box, her tiara askew, the old Countess of Pourtales brandished her fan and shouted, turning bright red, 'It's the first time in 60 years that someone dares mock me,' '' he wrote. ''The worthy lady was serious. She thought it was a hoax.''(Garafola p.64)

Marcel Proust, who was also in attendance later wrote to Gabriel Astruc who had opened the theater a few months before :

''The difficulties you have faced will surely give the work a place in the history of art, more so than had it met with immediate success,'' (Garafola p.64)
"Le Sacre Du Printemps" was only performed five times that year three in Paris and two in London. It would not be performed again until 1920.

View a recreation of the rite of Spring in Choreography and set design.


Jowitt, Deborah "The Ballets Russes Revolution: Diaghilev brought fire and controversy to ballet, but what remains of his legacy? - Free Online Library." News, Magazines, Newspapers, Journals, Reference Articles and Classic Books - Free Online Library. 17 June 2009 .

Garafola, Lynn. Diaghilev's Ballets russes. New York: Da Capo P, 1998.
Nicholas Roerich Museum. 17 June 2009 .

"Dance: The Original 'Sacre' - The New York Times." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 17 June 2009 .

White, Eric W. Stravinsky The Composer and his Works. London: Faber and Faber, 1966.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"Le Sacre du Printemps" Changest to the Sketches

Stravinsky’s early changes to Le Sacre as it evolved from sketch to a working score involved resetting note values and bar lines for for the sake of legibility, re-orchestration for the clarification and blending of parts, and rearrangements to the order of movements to better serve the story.
“we can generally assume that the majority of the previous hit changes next hit in barring and scoring were undertaken either to clarify the harmony and design (often by adjusting the orchestral balance) or, as indicated, to facilitate performance” (Van Den Toorn. Pieter C. P.39)
One example of a change in sequential order of the movements is described in “ Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring” by Pieter C Van den Toorn. Van den Toorn explains that Part I of the "Ritual of Abduction." originally followed "The Sage,"Iin the final score, however, it comes immediately after the first dance, the "Augurs of Spring." This change provides a musical buffer between two similar movements and facilitates the transition. (Van Den Toorn. Pieter C. P.31)

In a letter to his editor Stravinsky demonstrates his care and involvement with the production of the early score.
“I have verified, added to, and corrected everything in the "Errata." I beg you to copy all of this very carefully because we are working with Germans who do not know, or pretend not to know, French. The directions for the conductor must be printed separately, for which reason I ask you to make a special sheet for them. . . . Make certain that I haven't made a new mistake in the timpani at [nos.] 57 and 58–59, since I could easily have slipped up there. Please send it to Oeberg [director of the Russischer Musik Verlag in Berlin] well copied and clear, since you . . . are the only one who can put everything in place and coordinate the parts. (Craft, ed. p.159)
In "Conversations with Igor Stravinsky" Stravinsky explains his changes to the sketches in order to achieve greater clarity for the performer and his reservations about the infallibility of printed music.
“I do not believe that it is possible to convey a complete or lasting conception of style purely by notation. Some elements must always be transmitted by the performer, bless him.” (Stravinsky/Craft p.137-138)

" I did translate my Danse Sacrale into larger note values to facilitate reading (of course it is more readable, the reduction in rehearsal time proves that)." (Stravinsky/Craft p.21
He then explains his method of arriving at the proper rhythmic notation this he later contradicts if only slightly that changes to meter and note value may not have all too great an effect.
"As a composer I associate a certain kind of music, a certain tempo of music, with a certain kind of note unit. I compose directly that way. There is no act of selection or translation, and the unit of the note and the tempo appear in my imagination at the same time as the interval itself. Only rarely, too, have I found that my original beat unit has led me into notation difficulties. "(Stravinsky/Craft p.20)

”Who can take from dictation a passage of contemporary music in 6/4 and tell whether in fact it is not 6/8 or 6/16? “ (Stravinsky/Craft, p.20)
When asked by Robert Craft in his “Conversations with Stravinsky” if meters and bar lines had and authentic effect on the sound of the music Stravinsky replied:
“ up to a point, yes, but that point is the degree of real regularity in the music. The bar line is much, much more than a mere accent, and I don't believe that it can be simulated by an accent, at least not in my music. (Stravinsky/Craft, p.21)

Stravinsky explains his reasons for including markings to help his musicians for Le Sacre's Preimere and then for is desire to eliminate them for the published score:

“for the "Sacrificial Dance," it was decided to delete the pizzicati, and they were in fact eliminated, but not completely, as I notice that some still survive in the score after 192 . . . . But what bothers me the most are these pizzicati in the entire "Sacrificial Dance." They were deleted as a matter of principle: we were being rushed, there were few string players available, and even these were below average; we had enough trouble in coping with the rhythmic complexities alone. But now I am seriously wondering if we do right in sticking to that decision. After all, some day we'll be blessed with better performers and performing conditions. In that case, wouldn't writing the strings [alternately] unisono pizz . and divisi arco be the better solution? And won't the dryness of pizz. strings accompanying the oboes provide a more concise and clear-cut rhythm than any bowing ever could? Perpetual arco bowing seems to me (but I am only at the conductor's stand) to produce a sound that is constantly thick and undifferentiated, whereas intervening pizz. would provide clarity and definite contours to the music.” (Cyr, Louis p.157)
A look at these early sketches shows that Stravinkys creative process like his music at the time was without walls. He wrote sideways in the margins, he freely moved passagees about and changed articluation markings, bar lines, note values and meters to suit the performers needs. He made these changes, however, as an act of his own will and rarely if ever on the demand of colaberators.


Craft, ed., Stravinsky: Selected Correspondence , vol. 1, p. 159.

Cyr, Louis: Writing The rite right. (Berkeley: U. California, 1986) 157 -73.

Stravinsky, Igor, and Robert Craft. Conversations with Igor Stravinsky. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1959.

Van den Toorn, Pieter C. Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Diaghilev Ballets 1910-1914

Diaghilev, Nijinsky, Stravinsky from a photo taken by Nijinska in 1912.

In the years leading up to Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" the most seminal work which certainly provided the opportunity and impetus for the work was "the Firebird Suite". Commissioned by the impresario of french ballet Serge Diaghilev the "Firebird" was the first of three great Stravinky's ballets that comprise a distinctive stylistic period in his career. The three works "The Firebird Suite, "The Rite of Spring", and "Petrushka" are distinctive in their dramatic use of rhythms, polychords, and use of colorful orchestration. Despite their innovation some scholars believe these early works to be overly formulaic and contrived.
"The spectacular success of this first of a long line of Diaghilev ballet commissions barely disguises now the fact that the music was both derivative and to some extent formulaic. It was true that, at orchestral rehearsals, Stravinsky had to explain the music to the bewildered players, and that, at the first rehearsal, the sonorities were so unexpected that dancers missed their entrances." (Stephen Walsh)

Diaghilev had first heard Stravinsky's Feu d'artifice, op. 4 Fireworks in 1908. Fireworks was a wedding gift to his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov's daughter and compared to the forth coming ballets was quite tonal. Nicholas Cherepnine and A.K. Liadov (Diaghilev's former proffessor) were early contenders for the task of producing the score for The Firebird. (White, Eric p.145) When Diaghilev found his first choice Liadov was too busy to produce the score in time for the ballet's production he was no doubt impressed enough with the young composer to think of Stravinsky.(White, Eric p.145)

Here is a recording of Feu d'artifice, op. 4 "Fireworks" conducted by Stravinsky himself.

The Firebirds premiere in 1910 was a great success putting Igor (a twenty something) in the limelight of Paris.

"Overnight Stravinsky became a household name. Socially he was lionized. He was befriended by the Parisian great and good, by Diaghilev's aristocratic backers, by composers like Debussy, Ravel and Satie, by writers like Claudel, Proust, Gide and D'Annunzio, and even by the venerable Sarah Bernhardt." (Stephen Walsh)

The story of the Firebird ballet " centers on the journey of its hero, Prince Ivan. Ivan enters the magical realm of Kashchei the Immortal; all of the magical objects and creatures of Kashchei are herein represented by a chromatic descending motif, usually in the strings. While wandering in the gardens, he sees and chases the Firebird. The Firebird, once caught by Ivan, begs for its life and ultimately agrees to assist Ivan in exchange for eventual freedom." (Wikipedia)

In the Nouvelle Revue Française, Henri Ghéon called The Firebird the most exquisite marvel of equilibrium we have ever imagined between sounds, movements and forms’. (Stephen Walsh)

Listen to Stravinsky Conduct "The Firebird Suite"

The next work in this series of ballets was Petrushka. In his book Chronicle Stravinsky recounts that he wanted to compose"an orchestral piece in which the piano would play the most important part " Stravinsky again uses elements of chromaticism to indicate the supernatural and as a visual allegory to the piano he shifts from chords on the white notes to the black notes creating a bi tonal effect. Petroushka echos the Russian puppet theater and tells the story of a puppet come to life. Stravinsky's score mirrors the action and mood on stage in a dynamic and imaginative way. For example in the first scene set at a country fair the Stavinsky borrows folk material and an accordion motif and combines them with overlapping sonorities to imitate the bustle of a crowd.(Eric white p.161)

watch Petrushka, Scene II - Petrushka's Room

Stravinsky's compositional method for the Diaghilev ballets was to reorganized folk tunes using chromatic elements and somewhat serialist techniques of inversion, , retrograde, augmentation, and diminution. In the Firebird Stravinsky uses diatonic melodies to signify the human element while he implements chromaticism to inhabit the supernatural. This idea he drew form Rimsky-Koraskov's "the Golden Cockerel"(Eric White p.144) The three works are also know for their intense syncopation and colorfull orchestration. Stravinsky describes the orchestras for which he was writing as "wastefully large" but he conceded that they gave him every effect and register he could want.(Eric whitep.188)These works are unified by this method and by Stravinsky's preoccupation with bi tonality (Eric White p. 161)

After Le Sacre was complete Stravinsky set about completeing and publishing his first opera the Nightingale.


Stephen Walsh. "Stravinsky, Igor." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 8 Jun. 2009 <>.

"The Firebird." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 3 Jun 2009, 10:31 UTC. 3 Jun 2009 .

White, Eric W. Stravinsky The Composer and his Works. London: Faber and Faber, 1966. p.144

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Stravinsky's Contemporaries: Classcal Music of the 1910's

The early part of the twentieth century is signified by tumultuous change. During the years between 1908 and the beginning of world war I in 1914 some of the most basic tenants of music in the 20th century were developed. In some cases these trends and styles continue to present day. These new tangents and rivulets include the movements of impressionism, modernism, Atonality, neo-classism, nationalism, and socialist realism. The late Romantic period saw the burgeoning use of chromaticism, greater rhythmic freedom, flexibility of form and design, and new imaginative orchestration. Composers of this next era ,beginning just as a new century was born, began to break the old molds of composition creating altogether new streams of tradition that Stravinsky famously said were “at an angle” to the past formulaic lineage. (Wilson,Charles) Composers would struggle with the question of how to carry the mantle of past giants or to simply leave it in the dust of the 19th century. Debates over the choice of programmatic verses absolute music and the purpose of music to free the individual or bind the nation divided artists and thinkers into sometimes contentious camps.

First performed in 1894, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun by Claude Debussy is an example of Impressionism. Like the Rite of Spring it too is a ballet and introduced a new freedom in form and harmonic color. The prelude is a setting of a Stéphane Mallarmé poem and attempts to inhabit its mood and imaginative imagery. Mallarmé's works anticipated later movements in art such as Dadaism, Surrealism, and Futurism.

Around 1908 within the scope of a few works Arnold Schoenberg [Schönberg] set in motion what was termed the "emancipation of the dissonance" One such work was Du Lehnest Wider Eine Silberweide or You lean against a silver willow from the song cycle Das Buch der hängenden Gärten. This natural extension of the romantic eras chromaticism opened the flood gates in the early days of the 20th century for more and more bold use of dissonance and pantonalism.

Listen to the itunes stream: Du lehnest wider eine Silberweide...« (1908)

Maurice Ravel dedicated Soupir "Sigh" to Stravinsky his musical setting of the first of three poems by Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) The work premiered in 1913. Incidentally Debussy set the same three poems to music that same year.

Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé by Maurice Ravel (1913)

Language: French

Mon âme vers ton front où rêve, ô calme soeur,
Un automne jonché de taches de rousseur,
Et vers le ciel errant de ton oeil angélique,
Monte, comme dans un jardin mélancolique,
Fidèle, un blanc jet d'eau soupire vers l'azur!

Vers l'azur attendri d'octobre pâle et pur
Qui mire aux grands bassins sa langueur infinie
Et laisse, sur l'eau morte où la fauve agonie
Des feuilles erre au vent et creuse un froid sillon,
Se trainer le soleil jaune d'un long rayon.

Language: English

My soul rises towards your brow o calm sister, where there lies dreaming
An autumn strewn with russet freckles,
And towards the restless sky of your angelic eye,
As in a melancholy garden,
A white fountain faithfully sighs towards the Azure!

Towards the compassionate azure of pale and pure October,
Which mirrors its infinite languor in the great pools
And, on the stagnant water where the tawny agony
Of the leaves stirs in the wind and digs a cold furrow,
Lets the yellow sun drag itself out in a long ray.

The Symphony No. 8 in E-flat major by Gustav Mahler, known as the Symphony of a Thousand premiered in Munich on 12 September 1910. The work required a chorus of about 850, with an orchestra of 171

Mahler's 8th was based "Faust" the tragic play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Musically it represents the vast ambition of composers of the day as well as the climate of challenging progressive thought that influenced artists, composers, writers, and the upper and middle classes of Europe and America. Listen below to the finally of this titanic work

In conclusion it is fair to say that at the time of the premiere of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" in 1913 innovation, progressive ideas, dissonance, and rhythmic variety were par for the course. It is hard to say that the "Rite" was a real stand out other than the fact that it synthesized all of the most progressive elements of the current music into one raucous barrage of thunderous chords and rhythms. These rhythms and harmonies were echoed across the ocean in blues and jazz.


Peter Franklin. "Mahler, Gustav." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 8 Jun. 2009 .

Wilson, Charles. "Twentieth Century, The." The Oxford Companion to Music. Ed. Alison Latham. Oxford Music Online. 6 Jun. 2009 .

"Arnold Schoenberg - Werkverzeichnis - 1882-1907." Arnold Schoenberg Center. 06 June 2009 .

"Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun -." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 08 June 2009 .

"Stéphane Mallarmé -." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 08 June 2009 .

"Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé." 08 June 2009 .

Musical influences on Igor Stravinsky

Igor Fydorovich Stravinsky was born, in 1882 in Oranienbaum now called Lomonosov, Russia. In his auto-biography he recounts his first notable memory of sound. He describes a gnarled old man with red hair who performed a rhythmic clamor using a hand and an armpit that delighted area children. At home, young Igor imitated the man to his great satisfaction quite accurately. His parents, both musicians, forbade him to do so as the flatuentus sounds were off-color at best. He also recounts hearing women singing in the neighboring village and imitating them as well.

His father, Fyodor Stravinsky, was a lead bass singer for the Imperial Opera in St. Petersburg and Stravinsky recalls hearing music in the house while he says “my brothers and sisters were neglected” . Igor began piano at age nine and quickly learned to read music. Improvising soon became his favorite diversion although his teacher and parents scolded him for wasting time. Young Stravinsky also recounts reading opera scores from his fathers library. Mikhail Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar was the first symphony performance he heard and In his words “The impression was indelible”(Stravinsky, Igor p.6). He said “so intelligent is his balance of tone, so distinguished and delicate his instrumentation; and by the latter I mean his choice of instruments and his way of combining them” (Stravinsky, Igor p.6)

Later Igor’s mother took him to see Tchaikovsky’s Symphony Pathetique. He recalls catching a glimpse of the great master only a few weeks before his death. His admiration for the music of Tchaikovsky would grow over the coming years enough to say that he was a major influence on his own compositional style. (Stravinsky, Igor p.7)

Stravinsky’s uncle who was a wealthy liberal and music lover influenced him as well. He describes the mentality of his uncle's social set as being atheist, opposers of tyrannical government, interested in the sciences, concerned with the rights of man and admirers of Tolstoy . He add that along with these beliefs came a natural predilection for the music of Modest Mussorgsky and Richard Wagner. Stravinsky also observed performances by many great pianists as they were to appear in St. Petersburg. (Stravinsky, Igor p10)
Igor also studied the scores of Wagner and Rimsky-Korsakov. His next piano teacher (he does not name) was a staunch follower of her mentor Anton Rubinstein and insisted that he conform more to his mold. Stravinsky confesses that this teacher did however bless him with greater technical mastery of the piano.(Stravinsky, Igor p.15) In 1901, Stravinsky's parents insisted that he study law at the University of St. Petersburg. During this time he began to study harmony although he recounts that he found it to be dry and unsatisfying. He insists that his favorite way to solve any problem is though his own industry rather than by following a set method or theory. At eighteen, he had tackled counter-point completely on his own and garnered more enjoyment from that experience than he got from any teacher or proscribed rote method. (Stravinsky, Igor p.14) This independent style and tenacity will become a hallmark of his following compositions.
“there is only one course for the beginner; he must at first accept a discipline imposed from without, but only as the means of obtaining freedom for, and strengthening himself in, his own method of expression ” (Stravinsky, Igor p20)

Stravinsky's greatest influence was Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov a member of “the five” also known as “the mighty handful” . These were five Russian composers that would change music in a major way. Mily Balakirev, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Alexander Borodin. Stravinsky met Rimsky's youngest son while at University and it was through him that he met the composers acquaintance. The first time Igor played for Rimsky-Korsakov, he was unimpressed and suggested to Stravinsky that he work with one of his pupils in order to master counterpoint and harmony. Rimsky-Korsakov also advised him not to attend the conservatory where he was a professor as the environment was not suited to him and that he could always confer with him if he needed help. It was then that Stravinsky began his tutelage with the old master. As he developed his craft, Stravinsky like his contemporaries, weighed the differences between the works of Debussy and that of Wagner and of modern forms of expression verses the old schools of thought. He was drawn to the freshness and freedom of Debussy and grew fond of the works Emmanuel Chabrier. Rimsky worked with Igor on his first compositions in sonata allegro form and had particular influence on his orchestration as he worked along side the young composer. Rimsky-Korsakov would give Stravinsky a piano score and have him orchestrate it. He would then show Igor his own orchestration of the same passage and they would compare them. Stravinsky gave up counterpoint but still practiced orchestrating the works of Beethoven and Schubert and analyzed the form of many other classical pieces. As Igor composed his first symphony he would show each passage and movement to Rimsky-Korsakov for his input. (Stravinsky, Igor p.24)

In the years leading up tho his Composition of ” The Right of Spring” Igor began his relationship with Serge Diaghilev a Russian art critic, founder of the Ballet Russes, and patron. After Diaghilev heard Stravinsky’s early orchestral work she approached the young composer and the two began a collaboration that lasted 20 years. It was Diaghileff who commissioned some of Igor Stravinsky’s greatest works The Firebird, Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913) Pulcinella (1920) and Les Noces (1923). Stravinsky said of Diaghilev
“He had a wonderful flair, a marvelous faculty for seizing at a glance the novelty and freshness of an idea, surrendering himself to it without pausing to reason it out. ” (Stravinsky, Igor p.28)
The collaboration and commission brought Stravinsky and his family to Paris where he was able to meet some great musical minds of the time including Debussy, Ravel, Florent Schmitt, Manual de Falla and Eric Satie. 
 Igor's first idea of the Rite of Spring came to him as a “fleeting vision”
“I saw in imagination a solemn pagan rite: sage elders, seated in a circle, watched a young girl dance herself to death. They were sacrificing her to propitiate the god of spring. Such was the theme of the Sacre du Printemps. (Stravinsky, Igor p.31)”
While composing the “Rite”, Igor heard a performance of Wagner’s Parsifal which he complained was far too long to sit though comfortably and he found the atmosphere of pomp and circumstance not to his liking.(Stravinsky, Igor p.39) Whether or not this performance or Wagner’s work in general had any influence on him is a question for us to ponder as Stravinsky himself is not forthcoming on the matter. This discussion is left to us as we listen and compare the works of the great composers of the time and their similarities and differences with the works of Stravinsky. And that shall be the next topic of concern.


"Igor Stravinsky -." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 04 June 2009 .

Stravinsky, Igor. Igor Stravinsky, An Auto Biography. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1962.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Zietgeist: Stravinsky's Paris Circa 1910's

Igor Stravinsky composed his work Le Sacre du printemps ("The Rite of Spring") between the years of 1911 and 1913 while he lived in Clarens, Switzerland and traveled frequently to Paris. The atmosphere of Paris was one of economic rebirth, technological achievement, and progressive artistic expression. The period time is somewhat enigmatic. Falling between the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of World War I in 1914 the decade of the 1910's is more easily defined by what it was not rather than branding it with a monchar. But for lack of a proper label it was no doubt a progressive age.

Some notable occurrences in the years of 1911-13

  • The sinking of the RMS
  • Titanic in 1912
  • Air flight recently achieved in 1903 reaches new heights - A plane lands on the deck of a ship The first airshows are held in Chicago and Paris. An everywhere records are set and broken by intrepid aviators including a young man latter to be known as Harry Houdini.
  • Automobiles increased in number and affordability changing the city street forever
  • Radio and radio programming are entering popular culture
  • phonograph records transitioned from cylinders to discs and the modern record was born
  • the first silent feature films were released
  • Cubism lead by Pablo Picasso spread through Europe
  • Jazz was gaining popularity across America and Europe
  • Mark Twain and Leo Tolstoy die
  • European militarism grows beginning the chain of events leading to the first World War
  • The seeds of communism which lead to the October revolution are being sown in Russia
  • Women wore large plumed hat, bodices, and hobble skirts
  • the zipper and the first pop up toaster are invented

From: The Meccas of the World By Ruth Cranston

“this early morning calm, of solitary spaces and clear sunshine, fresh-sprinkled streets and gently fluttering trees, one meets with a new and altogether different Paris from the dazzling, exotic city one knows by day and at night. Absent is the snort and reckless rush of motors, the insistent jangling of tram and horse's bells, the rumble of carts and clip-clop of their Norman stallions' feet; absent the hurrying, kaleidoscopic throngs who issue from the subway stations and fill the thoroughfares; absent even that familiar smell-of-the- city which in Paris is a fusion of gasoline, wet asphalt, and the faint fragrance of women's sachet:“

“Motor-buses are whirring by now, and a maze of fiacres, taxis, delivery-boy's bicycles, and heavy trucks skid round the slippery corner in dangerous confusion. The traffic laws of Paris are of the vaguest, and policemen are few and far between; all at once, the Place seems unbearably thick and full of noise. “

“I read last week in one of the French illustrated papers a serious treatise on ladies' dogs. It was divided into the three categories: "Dogs for morning," "Dogs for afternoon," "Dogs of ceremony" — meaning full- dress dogs. And the article gravely discussed the correct canine accessory that should be worn with each separate costume of the elegante's elaborate day.?

From: Paris nights : and other impressions of places and people (c1913)

Describing the lighted signs of Parisian cafe’s at night.

“The shops and cafes were all on fire, making two embankments of fire, above which rose high and mysterious facades masked by trees that looked like the impossible verdure of an opera. And between the summits of the trees a ribbon of rich, dark, soothing purple the sky ! This was the city.”
“The wings of the Moulin Rouge, jewelled now with crimson lamps, began to revolve slowly. The upper chambers of the restaurant showed lights be- hind their mysteriously-curtained windows. The terrace was suddenly bathed in the calm blue of electricity. No austere realism of the philosopher could argue away the romance of the scene. “


"1910s -." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 03 June 2009 .

Bennett, Arnold. Paris nights : and other impressions of places and people (c1913). London: London : Hodder and Stoughton, 1915. 3 June 2009 .
Walsh, Stephen. "Stravinsky, Igor." In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, (accessed June 3, 2009).

Warwick, Anne. The meccas of the world; the play of modern life in New York, Paris, Vienna, Madrid and London ([c1913]). New York: New York, John Lane company, C1913. 3 June 2009 .